“The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
The mode of salvation that has been emphasized in much of American Christian life has been the past tense. Perhaps you have been asked the question by a well-meaning comrade: “When were you saved?” or “Have you been saved?” This emphasis on a past moment points to the power of Christ to act at certain times in our life to create a change of heart. The problem is that as we
move forward from that moment, we tend to lose a sense of connection with it, and thus with Christ himself. It’s not that this way of thinking is wrong; it’s that exclusively relegating salvation to a past event is only a tiny fraction of the way salvation actually works.
On the other hand we can also, with St. Paul, speak of being saved in the present tense. We are going through a process of salvation, moving forward to full consummation in the love-relationship with God. Salvation in the present tense emphasizes the indwelling, never-leaving, constant companionship of the Spirit of God. Salvation in the present tense allows for the perfecting imperfect reality of human existence. We are on the road to salvation, sometimes moving forward, sometimes slipping and falling, but assured that we are continually being saved.
I had a professor at the Seminary of the Southwest whose theological work centered on what he called the “diagonal advance.” Borrowing an image from C.S. Lewis, who stated that life within God was “always upward and always onward,” Dr. Tony Baker taught that moving on to perfection was not just a personal journey, but was actually the trajectory of all the cosmos.
I concur with Dr. Baker, with this one caveat: instead of a Diagonal Advance, I would describe it as a Spiral Advance. Sometimes in our moving forward in salvation we spend a little time moving in a circle, sometimes falling back a ways, but always progressing in general aim. I think that’s at the heart of “being saved” in the present tense. It is not our work that saves us, it is not our grit, or will, or resilience, nor is it our shortcomings and failures which preclude us from being saved; salvation the power of God embedded in our souls in every moment that continues moving us forward, even when we feel like we’re going nowhere.
We are being saved, even though we don’t always feel like it. Sometimes our hearts are on fire for God, we’re running full steam ahead and we feel the flow of the Spirit through us and into the lives of others. Sometimes we don’t feel anything, or maybe we feel absolutely wretched, wallowing in our pride and self-importance like a pig in the muck. But if Christ is truly with us, as he says he is unto the end of the ages, then we too are “being saved.”
Cody Nygard, Director of Discipleship and Connection